Everyone’s logic, in some regard, is warped by nostalgia. The things we enjoyed as a child were magical and special at the time when they first entered our lives, and when we put away childish things, they remain a soft spot. Media from our childhood, when not properly revisited as an adult, tends to be overrated in our minds. Certain objective truths, if those exist in this context, are lost on us.
Pixar was rolling out hit after hit right around the time when I was in the perfect age range to get excited about animated films. When I was 4, “Monsters, Inc.” came out. When I was 6, “Finding Nemo” was released. These movies were events for a kid, and I was completely on the hype train. All of the Pixar that could possibly be consumed was what I wanted. Luckily, I had cool parents who were down to let me be a cultural kid. This was important.
So anyway, a “Monsters, Inc.” or a “Finding Nemo” is a pretty big deal when you’re young because the colors are rich and the stories are relatively straightforward. That’s generally all you need to be entertained as a young person in a theater. But any animation studio can do these things with a big budget and a competent writer or two. It isn’t anything special. So what makes Pixar stand out?
Well, to be honest, there was something in the tone of a prime Pixar film that was always very melancholy. If you went from watching the Disney films of the 1990s to the Pixar films of the 2000s, you would feel the often depressive moments in the Pixar films much more distinctly. A good chunk of “The Incredibles” takes place in a gray, boring office building. This is no castle or fairy tale land; it was a practical world. Putting us in that dull place made the intense sequences more satisfying, while also adding depth to the film’s thematic qualities.
This leads me to the big idea of what actually makes the prime of Pixar so masterful: the films get better as you get older. Those office building sequences hit a lot harder, I’d imagine, if you grew up and started working in one. There’s something about a Pixar film that allows your nostalgia to sustain, but also make you feel more than you did as a kid.
Take the barracuda sequence from “Finding Nemo,” for instance. It plays on a paternal instinct of mine that I always forget I have. There’s a nostalgia to the scene because of how immediately it hits on a frightening, visceral level, but then there’s the character moment where you really start to relate to a clownfish. I’m closer to being a husband and a father than I am to being one of the babies that fall victim to a tragedy. “Finding Nemo,” like most other Pixar films, is an example of how films can get better as time goes on, not because of how they change or how the industry changes, but by how the viewer changes.
That’s really a unique quality that maybe isn’t completely understood by people who weren’t born in the 1990s and who weren’t there to enjoy the Pixar reign right from the get-go. I also think that Pixar’s dip in quality since 2010, save “Inside Out” and “Coco,” has tarnished a bit of their once esteemed place in the industry as a truly cutting-edge studio.
Nostalgia is almost always seen as a negative thing that clouds our judgment. The films of Pixar, however, continue to pull us in with youthful nostalgia, but they also reveal our growth in powerful ways.
Sam Zavada is a copy editor with The Standard-Speaker in Hazleton. He previously served as the news clerk at The Standard-Speaker, working with the obituaries and the community and lifestyle pages. Sam’s work in print dates back to his time at King’s College, where he spent two years as the editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, The Crown. Earlier in his time with The Crown, he worked as a staff writer and the entertainment manager. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.